Taking Stock of 2009

With a few hours left in 2009, now seems as good a time as any to take stock of what I have accomplished during past year.

The year got off to a pretty good start. After participating in the ScienceOnline09 conference I decided to get serious about science writing, both on blogs and “dead tree media.” Among my first formal efforts to be published outside the blogohedron were an article about spotted hyenas for Antennae and a review of A History of Paleontology Illustration for Palaeontologia Electronica.

What I did not expect, however, was the appearance of “Ida.” I won’t recapitulate the whole affair here (I am presently working on a paper covering the controversy that will, hopefully, be published in an open-access journal in 2010), but my reaction to the famous fossil landed me a pair of editorials in the Times and two appearances on BBC Radio 4’s “Material World.” Fortuitously, I had just started to work with my agent, Peter Tallack, at that time, and we used to hubbub over “Ida” to help find a publisher for my first book.

I have been working on what is now called Written in Stone for over three years, and in September it finally found a home at Bellevue Literary Press. The manuscript should be finalized by the end of January 2010, and with any luck the final product will hit shelves in the fall of 2010. By that time I should also be a good way into writing my second book, too, but I am going to keep quiet about that one for a little while longer (though I will say fans of Pleistocene megafauna will be pleased).

Admittedly there was much I wanted to do which I was not able to complete. There was an academic paper on the history of early Basilosaurus restorations, another on the snout of Sivatherium, and still another on the history of evolutionary thought in paleontology between 1859 and 1959, but those and several other papers will have to wait. They all sit, in varying degrees of completion, on my hard drive, and I hope that I will be able to make some more progress on them in 2010. Likewise, some of the popular articles I wanted to write (such as one about John Daniel, the “civilized” gorilla now sitting on the third floor of the AMNH, and another about the ongoing debate over sauropod neck posture) were rejected by the likes of Natural History and Scientific American, but I am keeping those ideas on the shelf for another time. And, sadly, I did not get to put together a “Best of Laelaps” essay collection as I had hoped. I started it, including rewrites of several essays, but Written in Stone quickly took precedence. I have not abandoned the idea entirely, though, and if I can establish myself as a science writer perhaps I will be better able to bring some of my favorite essays to a wider audience.

So, overall, I am fairly pleased with what I have been able to accomplish in 2009. I did not do everything I wanted to do, but at least I gained the confidence to start submitting article pitches, book proposals, and academic papers. Balancing my academic projects with popular ones is still difficult, but I hope to continue to do both. Many thanks to everyone who has helped me with both lines of work.

So what is in store for 2010? Right now it is difficult to say, but I have a number of goals. I have a few academic papers I want to finish/submit, I would like to write a few popular articles, and it would be marvelous if I could at least start formal work on my second book. Outside of writing I plan to engage in a bit of regular paleontological fieldwork this spring, but I might not remain in New Jersey for too long. This past summer I visited Wyoming and northern Utah with my wife for the first time, and we both loved Utah so much that we are planning on moving there. I figured it would be wise to go where the fossils are (as well as to escape the awful suburban sprawl of New Jersey), so, though it is a long shot, we are hoping to move to northern Utah sometime in 2010. (The trouble will be finding a job!)

I still feel like I have not done enough in 2009, but I am fairly pleased with what I have been able to do. I plan on working even harder in 2010, and speaking of which I had better get back to writing that paper! Happy new year, everyone, and thanks to all who have helped me with my work!

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